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The Return of Eric "The Natural" Kelly at ONE: Kings and Conquerors

The sport of mixed martial arts (MMA) is about individuals, but most of its highly-regarded world champions are forged in strong camps that bring in many great fighters.

In a very different atmosphere from boxing, MMA hardly sees any high-profile competitors building training camps around one man or woman as it often centered around a gym where several coaches work in conjunction with each other to train a stable of fighters of varying skills and weight classes.

Ever since he started his professional career in 2009, Filipino submission specialist Eric “The Natural” Kelly has been described as a lone wolf because he has never had an established MMA team and only hops from one gym to another.

“For me, I don’t have a stable gym where I train at full-time. I train more naturally. Whichever gym I find myself in, that’s where I train. Mostly, I just watch YouTube videos and apply it to my training and then I go to some gyms to test it out. I am in the constant search for more knowledge for my career,” Kelly recalled.

Kelly finds himself in familiar situation, wherein he has no specific team to formulate his game plan. He is tasked to take on Japanese veteran Kotetsu “No Face” Boku on the undercard of ONE: KINGS & CONQUERORS in Macao, China on 5 August.

Although he acknowledged that a reliable support team in his bouts is missing, Kelly intends to stick with the training regimen that he is used to.

Kelly has been seen diligently grinding at various local gyms in his hometown of Baguio City, while allotting time to make a trip down to Metro Manila to train in the city’s elite fight camps.

The 35-year-old native of Baguio City, Benguet bared that numerous MMA groups have offered and extended their helping hands as he prepares for his return to the ONE Championship cage, including the Mark Sangiao-mentored Team Lakay.

Team Lakay has become an instantly recognizable name in the Philippine MMA scene because of the big number of successful homegrown talents it has produced since its inception in 2003.

Despite being located at an elevation of 4,300 feet above sea level in the mountains of La Trinidad, Benguet, Team Lakay has been recognized as one of Asia’s elite MMA groups, spawning remarkable Filipino fighters like ONE Lightweight World Champion Eduard Folayang and former ONE Featherweight World Champion Honorio Banario, as well as Geje Eustaquio, Kevin Belingon, Rey Docyogen, Gina Iniong, Joshua Pacio, Danny Kingad and Kelly’s younger brother Edward.

Kelly revealed that he personally received an invite from Sangiao, who is the beloved headmaster of Team Lakay since its founding.

“Yes, he personally invited me to join Team Lakay. But we will talk about it. I see it as a great opportunity,” he said.

Kelly and Sangiao are acquainted with each other as both men worked together in the Philippine national Wushu squad from 2001 to 2004.

According to Kelly, the only thing that hinders him from donning the Team Lakay’s bright red trunks is that he does not want to be isolated in a particular team.

“I just don’t want to be stuck in one team. As much as possible, I want to explore all styles and forms of fighting. But I am open to all possibilities. Never say never in this sport. Mark and I will talk about it,” he shared.

Kelly acknowledged that his striking background can greatly improve with Team Lakay to compliment his superb grappling pedigree.

“I am looking to sharpen my skills in the stand-up department. I already have a good ground game, but I have to back it up with an outstanding striking. I know I can achieve that with Team Lakay,” he asserted.

With a pending offer from Team Lakay, Kelly opts to do it in his own way for now as he seeks to break his two-fight losing skid at the expense of Boku at ONE: KINGS & CONQUERORS.

“I have been doing this for the past eight years. I am still confident as to how I conduct my training. It has given me success in the past. I still believe that it will give me the success in my upcoming fight. It all boils down to discipline,” he ended.

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